Education Law Center is calling on Governor Phil Murphy and the State Legislature to utilize at least $500 million of the bond financing authorized under the “COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act” to ensure school buildings across New Jersey meet the health and safety standards for reopening established by the Department of Education (DOE).
ELC is also urging the DOE and the Schools Development Authority (SDA) to undertake an emergency COVID-19 assessment of facilities conditions to determine the need for building repairs, upgrades, or capital maintenance in order to safely reopen under the DOE guidelines for classroom occupancy, ventilation, heating and cooling and other relevant conditions.
ELC is pressing this demand as counsel to the plaintiff class of students in the 31 urban, or SDA, districts in the landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation. The State remains under a 1998 court order to fully fund capital construction projects needed to ensure school buildings are safe, not overcrowded and educationally adequate.
In a notice to Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin, ELC underscores that, while adequate educational space is always important, the need for social distancing and functioning HVAC systems is crucial to the safe reopening of schools in the current public health crisis. Addressing unsafe and unhealthy conditions in school buildings is particularly urgent given that the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable student populations, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and homeless students who face educational deprivation due to the digital divide.
“Providing additional funding for schools as the FY21 State Budget is struck will give the Legislature the opportunity to not only meet the State’s constitutional obligation and ensure the health and safety of school children and staff, but also to put thousands of New Jersey construction workers, as well as architects, engineers and building suppliers, back to work,” said ELC’s Executive Director David Sciarra.
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